Verizon used drones to inspect cell sites hit by hurricane

Verizon is one of the latest companies to use drones for site inspects, the carrier has announced. Only hours after Hurricane Matthew's exit, Verizon deployed drones to inspect sites for possible damage, doing so despite severe regional flooding. Without the drones, these cell site inspections may have taken days rather than hours due to the severity of the flooding, and potential cell service outages may have lasted longer.

Verizon announced its drone-based cell site inspections on Friday, saying they were carried out in areas in both North and South Carolina. These drone-inspected sites experienced what Verizon describes as 'severe flooding,' which made it difficult or impossible for humans to carry out the inspections. Aerial inspections, though, bypassed the flooding issue altogether and enabled the carrier to identify potential damage asap.

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According to Verizon, the carrier used a Measure UAS Inc. quadcopter to carry out the inspections. Livestreaming high-definition video enabled engineers to visually assess the equipment; photos were also taken and shared with the operators. Verizon says that because its engineers were able to see whether the system was underwater (it wasn't), they could proceed with getting an air boat out to it and refilling its generator, restoring service at that particular site within hours of the storm's passing.

This underscores one of the ways drone usage has proven effective for commercial purposes. Verizon has praised the technology as a viable tool, and other businesses have similarly used UAVs for business reasons — everything from insurance and land inspections to agricultural spraying, remote surveillance, and more.

Commercial drone usage still remains a sticky subject, though, having only recently been covered by a series of rules implemented by the FAA. In August, rules concerning non-hobbyist operations involving sub-55lbs drones went into effect. While the regulations aim to make drones a viable technology while also keeping people safe, many have criticized the regulations as too restrictive.

Under the rules that went into effect this past August, UAV operators have to stay within line of sight of the drone and must operate it only in unpopulated places, with the exception of people who are directly involved in the drone project. Companies can apply to have the FAA waive some of its restrictions, but they must first prove their drones are safe.

This was resulted in several companies carrying out extensive drone testing for data-gathering purposes. UPS, for example, reportedly recent held faux emergency drone runs as part of an effort to eventually get FAA waivers on certain restrictions. Such processes are long and expensive, though, and don't guarantee that any waiver will be forthcoming.